Why “This Is Working” is not working for me

Once a week professional screenwriters John August (Go, Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and Craig Mazin (Identity Thief, RocketMan, The Hangover Part II & III) produce a podcast worthy of any screenwriters attention called, Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that may be interesting to screenwriters. I highly recommend it. It’s one of the top podcast on iTunes and it can also be found at JohnAugust.com. As a fledgling professional screenwriter myself, I find this podcast to be a great resource for unique industry insights and perspectives outside of my own purview. Even though there are times when I disagree with their specific tastes, I find both John and Craig to be sharp, intelligent people who deeply care about their craft and earnestly want to help other writers.

One thing I specifically enjoy is a segment on their show called, The 3 Page Challenge. This is where they give writers a chance to send in the first 3 pages of their script and for John and Craig to give their critiques. It’s such a popular segment they decided to do a special 3 Page Challenge with an entire screenplay. They picked, “This Is Working” by K.C. Scott, a script that had already been featured during a recent 3 Page Challenge and they made it available for download so that you could read it before you listened to the critique. Now this is interesting to me because of the subjective nature of even professional level screenwriting. It’s hard for me to listen to any writer’s opinion (professional or not) on a screenplay before I’ve either read their scripts, or heard their specific take on scripts that I’ve read. Although I have not read any of John and Craig’s scripts they both have films that I’ve seen, some I really like and unfortunately some a don’t like as much but I’ve never had a specific opportunity to understand their objective tastes as they relate to a piece of unproduced screenwriting. So, for me this is where rubber meets the road with John and Craig. I could finally decide if their general tastes match up with mine. Why is this important to me? Listening to a podcast takes a lot of time and if I’m going to continue to be a loyal listener I want to know, at least on some level, that we’re in the same ballpark when it’s come to what we think is quality writing.

So I read “This Is Working” and simply didn’t enjoy it. With all respect to K.C., it just wasn’t my taste. I believe he has a firm grasp on the medium but the story didn’t grab me. The characters are not people I would want to spend time with for two hours in a dark movie theater and the plotting/structure left me feeling bored. I personally don’t find spoiled rich kids to be interesting unless they or someone around them grows. One exception, but only because the story goes way over the top, is “The Jerk.” In “This Is Working” no one changes and Byron is so sad he even sucks the people around him into his orbit. That, and the clever hipster references didn’t come across as comedy genius to me, they just came across as clever hipster references.

So I didn’t care for the script (Sorry K.C.) and I was looking forward to John and Craig agreeing with me. The podcast starts and to my surprise they both rave about the script. At one point a claim was made that K.C. is such a strong writer he should immediately be on staff for an existing television show. I have to admit my head started spinning. Was I just wrong? Did I not read it properly? This was a real, The King Has No Clothing moment for me. So I continued to listen to the podcast and they proceeded to explain everything they felt could be improved with the script. They cited a number of flaws that I also didn’t like about script. At this point I’m incredibly confused. How could a writer of a screenplay that clearly needs as much work as this script needs still be ready to start working on a television show today?

I don’t bring all of this up to be critical of K.C. and I don’t bring all of this up to even be critical of John and Craig. I shine light on this because I’m trying to stay sane and go through the process of becoming a professional screenwriter. The more I go down the rabbit hole the more I realize this entire career I’ve picked is potentially ONLY based on peoples opinions and relationships. I want to think that there’s such a thing as objective quality and I want to think that the cream rises to the top but the more and more I watch success, the more and more I become confused. Lately the Krishna quote has been bouncing around in my head, “You have a right to your labor but not the fruits of your labor.” I write this blog because I want to get through through the fog. Do any of their other listeners agree with me about this script? Am I simply way off? When Craig said, “This Is Working” is a 2015 script, not a 1990’s script that doesn’t mean that it’s a story that should be professionally concidered. To me the script doesn’t feel current, it feels trendy and I’m more interested in finding deeper truths without so many ‘arch’ references.

I feel like writing this at all will potentially put me in the lions den with John and Craig but the fear of that isn’t worth allowing the confusion to win. I make a lot of mistakes in my life and in my work but I’ve continued to keep moving forward. This idea of subjectivity being a cloud that confounds me and keeps me from producing more work is something I’m going to fight through. I come to you not as someone who thinks they have the answers, but as a student of the craft and a curious human who just wants to understand. Any perspective on this would be appreciated.

Nicholas Anthony
The MF Citrus Farm
Los Angeles, CA

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